An electric chair made of plastic bottles in the Venice of the jungle

April 2009 -

Tourist guides describe the Belén area of Peru's Amazon city Iquitos as the Venice of the jungle. Each year at high tide, this area transforms into a tangle of boats, improvised bridges and wooden houses that appear to float on the water. Picturesque? Certainly, if you ignore all the garbage, the structural lack of drinking water and the sewage being dumped directly into the river.


Photo: Strømme Foundation / Egil Mongstad

The cultural organisation La Restinga has been working here since 2007 on its project Crea Belén. Creative activities enable a group of children to acquire knowledge and skills with which they can be trained as promoters of other children living in their neighbourhood. No easy feat considering the problems that are common here: alcoholism, sexual abuse and domestic violence are more the rule than an exception.

Itala Moran Sanchez is one of the co-founders of La Restinga and currently its co-director. "From the very beginning, La Restinga has used art and creativity as educative tools. We want to use these to create an atmosphere of harmony and symbiosis. For we must never forget that many of the children here consider the social problems 'normal' because they are all they have ever known. This makes our work therapeutic to a certain extent, in which creativity can have an extremely liberating and healing effect."

Iquitos is a city deep in the jungle that can only be reached by boat or plane. This means that the city is relatively isolated, including from the cultural perspective. "The most isolating factor, however, is the unwillingness of the local authorities. Cultural organisations like La Restinga can count on no cooperation whatsoever from the local politicians," says Moran Sanchez. La Restinga's projects in Belén would therefore be impossible to achieve without assistance from a network of friends, family and other organisations, including the Strømme Foundation. This means the results are very close to reality. Where else could you take a seat on an electric chair made of plastic bottles and other collected waste to watch audio and computer images about the waste issues faced by the poorest and most marginalised part of Iquitos?